1967 was an eventful year in the United States. The Vietnam War continued to ramp up. The anti-war movement also continued to ramp up too. It was the year that Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into military service and was stripped of his Heavyweight Boxing Title. Ronald Reagan was sworn in as Governor of California. The Doors released their first album. Jimi Hendrix released his first album called ‘Are You Experienced.’ The Beatles released ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ It was the year of the Newark, NJ riots, which spread to other cities. It was on April 4 in 1967 that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his spellbinding anti-war speech at the Riverside Church in New York City, exactly one year to the day prior to his assassination. And there was much more. And, in the midst of all this came this haunting, strange song from Bobbi Gentry that would sit at #1 throughout that long, hot summer at a time when summers seemed more brutal, in large part due to the fact that air conditioning was not common in most homes at the time and was a rarity in most automobiles. And few automobiles had FM radios in 1967. But on the AM dial that summer Bobby Gentry’s monster hit dominated the airwaves.
The song ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ went to #1 that year and eventually got 8 Grammy nominations. It won 4. The tune revolves around a story about the day Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge and the mystery surrounding that incident. Apparently, Billie Joe and a girl threw something off the Tallahatchie Bridge earlier that morning. The mystery surrounds the question of what was it that Billie Joe and the girl threw off the bridge earlier that fateful day…and why Billie Joe would commit suicide later that same day.
Speculation was rampant as the song sat at #1 during the hot summer of 1967 and continues to this day among those who were around and listening to the radio in the summer of that year. Of all the terrific songs from the musically wonderful 1960’s, Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ stands out as one of the classic, iconic intoxicating songs from the era. Here she is singing this classic live on the BBC in 1968.
Watch Bobbie Gentry Perform ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ Live on the BBC